Delaware does not have a history of expansive social programs. A survey made in 1938 found that the state, which then ranked fourth nationally in per capita income, spent little more than the poorest southern states on public assistance. By 1991, however, the state ranked 25th in terms of public aid recipients as a percentage of population.
In 2001, the average weekly unemployment benefit was $218.38. Average monthly participation in the food stamp program in FY2002 comprised 39,628 persons (16,483 households). The average monthly benefit was $82.63, and the sum total of benefits paid in FY2002 was $39,293,407.
With the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the US government has changed the form and regulations for many of its social welfare programs. Most significantly, it replaces Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), an open-ended entitlement program, with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a limited system of assistance funded largely through federal block grants. The reform act also impacts the food stamp program, the Supplemental Security Income program, and the child nutrition program. The law took effect on 1 July 1997 and provided $16.38 billion in block grants for fiscal years 1997–2002. The grants are to be divided among the states based on an equation involving the numbers of former AFDC recipients in each state.
Reauthorization of the 1996 social welfare legislation, scheduled for 2002, was delayed, and the original law had been extended three times as of July 2003, with the most recent extension running through September 2003. Delaware's TANF program is called ABC (A Better Chance). In June 2000 the state had 17,262 welfare recipients. State expenditures on the TANF program in FY2002 totaled $25,966,885.
In December 2001, Social Security benefits were paid to 137,170 Delaware residents. This number included 89,140 retired workers, 13,710 widows and widowers, 16,010 disabled workers, 7,520 spouses, and 10,790 children. Social Security beneficiaries represented 16.9% of the total state population and 92.9% of the state's population age 65 and older. Retired workers (excluding persons with special benefits) received an average monthly payment of $913; widows and widowers, $882; disabled workers, $843; and spouses, $473. Payments for children of retired workers averaged $423 per month; children of deceased workers, $611; and children of disabled workers, $258.
Federal Supplemental Security Income payments in December 2001 went to 12,197 Delaware residents, averaging $362 a month.